Oct 22

Would Boston’s Free-Agent Building Approach Benefit Mets?

Yesterday, I suggested what the New York Mets could learn from the St. Louis Cardinals in building their team. Today, let’s examine how the Red Sox were built and what the Mets can take from their approach.

The Cardinals’ philosophy of first building from within followed by judicious trades and free-agent signings has always been the traditional and preferred method.

Throwing millions and millions into the free-agent market is costly and risky. The Mets don’t have the resources of the Yankees or Dodgers to throw good money after bad.

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

There’s pressure to win in both markets, but there’s a greater intensity in Boston – and New York – while there’s a degree of patience in the Midwest. That explains in part why St. Louis has 17 homegrown players on its roster, while the Red Sox have ten.

There was a venomous culture in Boston last season as the Red Sox, burdened by several cumbersome contracts – similar to what the Mets faced when Sandy Alderson took over – and a few cancerous personalities in the clubhouse.

“Say, could you pass some fried chicken this way?’’

The Red Sox cleared nearly $200 million in salaries when they unloaded Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers midway through last year’s disastrous 69-93 summer under Bobby Valentine. They did so because even in a lost season the Red Sox were thinking about this summer. That’s something the Mets never fully explored when they had Jose Reyes and others to dangle.

The Red Sox were far quicker and more decisive than the Mets have been in ridding themselves of too costly and ineffective players, such as Oliver Perez, Ike Davis, Francisco Rodriguez and Luis Castillo to name a few of close to numerous bad deals since 2006, the last time the Mets saw October.

Rather than sink their savings into different long-term, costly signings, the Red Sox signed a handful of productive, yet cost-effective, players in: Shane Victorino (three years, $39 million); catcher David Ross (two years, $6.2 million); first baseman Mike Napoli (one year, $5 million); shortstop Stephen Drew (one year, $9.5 million); outfielder Jonny Gomes (two years, $10 million); and dynamite closer Koji Uehara (one year, $4.25 million plus option).

None bowl you over; collectively, they helped the Red Sox win 97 games.

Boston also extended by two years and $26 million the contract of its own free agent, designated hitter David Ortiz. They also avoided arbitration by offering Jacoby Ellsbury a one-year, $9-million deal. Some signings, such as pitcher Ryan Dempster’s two-year, $26.5 million deal, didn’t pan out. He’s now in middle relief and would be a starter for the Mets.

The Red Sox also hit it with trades, including pitcher Jake Peavy, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and and former Mets first-base prospect, Mike Carp.

Boston’s success in the free-agent and trade markets was overwhelmingly successful. Although Alderson said he could have the leeway to offer a $100-million contract to one player, he would be better off in taking Boston’s approach and attempt to patch several of the Mets’ many holes.

Alderson knows the success the Red Sox enjoyed is rare and shouldn’t be expected, especially since the Mets won’t offer similar deals. However, the idea of pursuing players with playoff success – Napoli and Victorino – is a sound way to augment their present composition of youth and few proven major leaguers.

The Mets are unsettled at first base, but are kidding themselves if they think they could get Napoli by offering a slight raise. Napoli was to get a three-year, $39-million deal, but that fell through when a degenerative hip condition was discovered. He’ll likely get his three years this winter.

As for Victorino, the Mets had their chance to sign him, but now it is too late. They must consider between Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, what they might each cost, and their various baggage.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox attempt to retain Ellsbury, but there are already reports the Tigers are interested in either him or Choo, the latter who is reportedly seeking four years.

The Red Sox took a shotgun approach last winter, and still wound up with a $155-million payroll while hitting most of their targets. It worked because their scouts did their homework; they got lucky; and they already had a core to build around. The Red Sox were also forced to be aggressive last winter because of their restless and demanding fan base. Every year it is the same motivation for them and the Yankees.

The Mets’ fan base is already looking at 2015 when Matt Harvey returns. Few are expecting a contender next summer without him. The Mets also don’t have as good a core as Boston had and won’t come anywhere close to what the Red Sox spent, but could go as high as $100 million, maybe a little more.

Everybody in the division save the Miami Marlins will spend more. If the Mets are to emulate the Red Sox, they’ll have to dig deeper and that’s not something they’ll be inclined to do.

Oct 16

2013 Season Review: Dillon Gee

dillon gee

DILLON GEE, RHP

PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS

Coming off surgery, the expectations were minimal because the Mets didn’t know what they were getting. The surgery was to repair an artery in his shoulder after experiencing numbness in his hand and fingers. As a “feel’’ pitcher, this type of injury was especially serious because it prevented him from getting a grip on his breaking balls and change-up, which were essential to his success. When healthy the book on Gee was is reliability as he pitched at least five innings in 17 starts in 2012, and 12 of those starts were defined as quality. However, like a lot of Mets’ pitchers there was a problem with run support, as he finished 6-7. His 97-29 strikeouts-to-walks ratio was good. If healthy, the Mets slotted him in as the No. 3 starter behind Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

CAREER STATS

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2013 SEASON REVIEW

Gee said he felt good, but it was clear he didn’t have it in the beginning of the season as he was 2-6 with a 5.68 ERA in late May and there talk whether he was lose his job in the rotation when Zack Wheeler was to be promoted to the majors. Then it was as a switch was turned on as he gave up a run in 7.1 innings and struck out 12 in a victory at Yankee Stadium, May 30. All of a sudden, Gee’s change-up was working and Gee went on a roll where he worked into the seventh inning or later in 10 of his next 12 starts. When Harvey went down, Niese had a shoulder issue, and Wheeler was finding his way, Gee emerged as the Mets’ most reliable pitcher. Gee finished at with a 12-11 record with an impressive 3.62 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and a 3-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Most importantly to Gee, he started 32 games and threw a career-high 199 innings.

LOOKING AT 2014

John Delcos Says: Gee thinks, and rightfully so, that he should throw 200 innings every year. With Harvey gone for the season, he and Niese are slotted 1-2 in the rotation, followed by Wheeler and as of now two question marks. Gee said his health issues are behind him, and the numbers substantiate that claim. Gee is not a power pitcher, but his fastball looks better when his change-up and breaking balls are working. Gee has won 13 games (2011) and 12 (last year), so with a little run support and improved bullpen it is conceivable he could be a 15-game winner. If he makes all his starts and throws 200 innings, then the wins should fall into place. Gee enters the 2014 season as a given in the rotation, and with it, higher expectations than he’s ever had.

Joe D. Says: I love the Dillon Gee story… He comes back from a career threatening blood clot that required arterial surgery and delivers a solid campaign in which he led the team in wins while posting a career best 3.64 ERA and 2.1 BB/9. He got off to a rusty start in April, but got progressively better as the season wore on and posted some of the best second half numbers in the National League with a 2.74 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and an opposing .280 on-base percentage.

Gee symbolizes what the Mets have been trying to do over the last several seasons and that is to throw strikes and command the zone. He shows that you don’t necessarily need a 98 mph fastball to succeed as long as you can spot your pitches and change speeds the way he does.

The Matt Harvey injury means his job is safe, although I wouldn’t be shocked to read a plethora of posts suggesting the Mets trade him. Gee is as close to a keeper as one could get, and with all the fireballers expected to pack this rotation by 2015, the Mets are going to need a pitcher like Gee who offers a different look that would only enhance his rotation-mates’ performances and confound opposing teams. Expect an even better season from Gee in 2014 who has lifted himself from number five starter to somewhere in the top three spots.

Oct 14

Mets Have Few Spots Without Questions

Let’s assume for a moment the New York Mets’ health questions – outside from Matt Harvey – are answered in the positive heading into spring training. If that’s the case, then let’s look what issues the Mets’ don’t qualify as pressing.

They don’t have a lot.

As I see it, they are only three deep in their rotation with Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Zack Wheeler. All have performance questions, but if healthy I’m not overly concerned.

Gee won 12 games last year and 15 should not be out of the question. The same goes for Niese. Who among us doesn’t expect Wheeler to pitch the way Harvey did before he was injured?

Who wouldn’t take that now?

As far as the position players are concerned, the Mets are set in just two spots, and possibly a third. David Wright, of course, and can we please stop trying to replace Daniel Murphy when there are other concerns?

I have no problem with Murphy at second base, and for that matter, I’m also fine with Eric Young in left field, primarily because he surfaced above nine other options to be a productive leadoff hitter. Yes, a high on-base percentage would be good to see, but he made things happen at the top of the order and lead the National League in stolen bases.

And, don’t forget, the Mets only had him for half a season.

The expectations are high for Juan Lagares in center, but he has too many offensive issues. The same goes for Matt den Dekker. Translation: The outfield remains a mess.

There are no answers in the minor leagues and little chips to use to trade. That means they will have to spend, but is there anybody out there that makes you salivate?

I wrote optimistically the other day about the bullpen, but that’s if everything comes together. They appear to have plenty of options to build around, but nothing concrete, especially considering Bobby Parnell’s injury. Should Parnell not come back that’s a source for serious worry.

The back end of the rotation is a concern just as it was last year before Jeremy Hefner and Gee started pitching well. They have options they could bring back and others in the minors, but there’s too much uncertainty.

First base is a black hole and catcher Travis d’Arnaud hasn’t proven he can hit, although the pitchers appear to like him and his defense is promising.

The Mets as we know them today will not be your team come Opening Day. And, that’s a positive.

Oct 13

Rebuilding Mets’ Bullpen Not Monster Task As It Has Been

In each of Sandy Alderson’s previous three winters with the New York Mets, he listed building the bullpen as a priority. It will be the same this winter as well.

Horrendous in the first half of last season, the Mets’ bullpen stabilized into respectability in the second half of the season to finish with a 3.98 ERA.

Unlike previous seasons when Alderson’s bullpen needed a complete overall, the Mets already have several slots filled, but still need to improve their overall depth.

“We need to have more quality arms in the bullpen,’’ Alderson said. “We never had a real strong bottom half of the bullpen. The key will be to have more arms, quality arms out there that we can rely on.’’

Frank Francisco was a bust as the closer, but in his place Bobby Parnell emerged as reliable in that role. However, he lost a considerable amount of weight following surgery to repair a herniated disk. Assuming Parnell returns for the start of the season, the Mets’ pen could also feature LaTroy Hawkins – as a reliable set-up reliever – Vic Black, lefty specialist Scott Rice, long man Carlos Torres, and Gonzalez Germen.

Black was acquired in the deal that sent Marlon Byrd and John Buck to Pittsburgh. He throws in the high 90s and will likely get a chance at the closer role if Parnell isn’t ready.

In previous seasons the Mets had to search for six or seven arms. As of now, they could already have six and are merely looking for depth. Their lack of depth was exposed when after Parnell was injured and Torres was temporarily moved to the rotation.

Rice and Hawkins were two feel-good stories. After spending 14 years in the minor leagues, Rice finally got his chance to play in the major leagues and appeared in 73 games. Meanwhile, the 40-year-old Hawkins still touched the radar gun at 95 mph., and when Parnell was injured, he took over the closer role and saved 13 games with a 2.93 ERA.

Germen emerged as a power arm and Torres was valuable as a combination long-man, spot-starter and situational reliever. Torres’ versatility is something the Mets’ bullpen hadn’t had since Darren Oliver in 2006.

Previously, the Mets would piece together their bullpen, but this time most of their heavy lifting has already been completed. Of course, with Matt Harvey gone for 2014, their pen stands to be taxed.

 

Oct 12

Appreciating Carlos Beltran; Wondering About Return To The Mets

There are a lot of people who tell me if the New York Mets aren’t in the playoffs, and if there’s no arch enemy such as the Yankees to root against, they don’t bother watching the playoffs.

Too bad, because they missed a classic Friday night, and another example of Carlos Beltran’s post-season excellence to marvel over.

BELTRAN: I would take him back. (AP)

BELTRAN: I would take him back. (AP)

Beltran will be a free agent this winter, and because the man can still play and one must wonder if the Mets will make a run at him.

You do remember, that rather than pick up his $18.5-million option, the at-the-time rebuilding Mets chose to trade him to the Giants for Zack Wheeler.

I understood what the Mets were doing at the time, but even so I always appreciated Beltran, who is arguably one of the top five position players in franchise history.

I don’t know if Beltran is a Hall of Famer, but he’s a very good regular season player and an off-the-charts October performer.

Beltran drove in all three Cardinals’ runs and threw out a runner at the plate in a scintillating 3-2 victory over the Dodgers.

Add them up now and Beltran is hitting .345 with 16 home runs, 12 doubles and 34 RBI in 40 career postseason games. He also has 42 runs scored and 11 stolen bases. He’s played in October with the Astros, Mets and Cardinals, but has never played in the World Series. He is, however, an eight-tim All-Star.

“It’s just fun to watch him do his thing,’’ Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said last night.

A lot of Mets’ fans don’t want to hear that as they are instead they are caught up on one pitch Beltran took for a called third strike to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.

Hopefully, Mets’ COO Jeff Wilpon was able to convey that to Beltran, along with the organization’s apologies for how his tenure in Flushing ended. You’ll remember, with the competitive part of the 2009 season over, instead of Beltran having knee surgery they opted to bring him back to play in 19 meaningless September games and was eventually shut down.

Then, in the offseason there was a snit between him and the organization – when Omar Minaya was still general manager – over knee surgery and Beltran had it on his own.

Beltran, as the team player he is, had no problem moving to right field for first year manager Terry Collins. Then came the trade for Wheeler and again the remembrances of the called third strike he took from Adam Wainwright.

That was a monster pitch that froze Beltran. It would have frozen Ted Williams. It would have frozen Babe Ruth. It was that good a pitch.

Instead of appreciating what Beltran gave the Mets during his tenure. Instead of acknowledging how he played hurt for the Mets, including with a broken face after his horrific collision with Mike Cameron, a great many Mets’ fans failed to recognize what they had.

Beltran, a free agent this winter, said he’d be open to a return to the Mets. I’d love for him to finish out his career here, where he’d take the pressure off David Wright and would be a tremendous influence to the Mets’ young outfielders in Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker.

Then, when 2015 rolls around with Matt Harvey’s expected return, we might enjoy seeing Beltran in another Mets’ October.